Sounds of Authority to ring out loud and clear at Wenonah High School

Sounds of Authority to ring out loud and clear at Wenonah High School
Edmond "Barry" Johnson leads the Sounds of Authority drum section in a demonstration of African-style drumming. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)

For Yasha Stewart, it just made sense.

The choral instructor at Avondale Elementary School is the product of the public housing authority in Birmingham, lives in Birmingham public housing and is directing a musical event tonight with 50 children from public housing.

So, she thought, there could be no better name for the event than Sounds of Authority, which will be presented from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the auditorium at Wenonah High School.

“This is the sound from each public housing neighborhood,” said the 28-year-old Stewart, who grew up in and lives in Elyton Village of the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District (HABD). She added that the name delivers a subtle message to the children that they have the authority to determine where they go in life.

“I tell these children that just because you’re a product of public housing, it doesn’t determine where you go,” Stewart said. “We are taking authority to know that even though we live in the housing authority, we still can become something great.”

The two-hour program features the singing of African-American spirituals, African-styled dance and African drumming. There is also hip hop music and modern dance.

Edmond “Barry” Johnson has guided youth in playing percussion instruments dating back to classes in 2000 at Benjamin Greene Village in Roosevelt City. Johnson, who has done African drumming the past 30 years, will lead the drummers in Friday’s performance.

Stewart said she’s had to educate some of the children in the history and significance of the spirituals they are singing.

“We were at a point where blacks were not able to do the things they’re able to do and go where they’re able to go,” she said. “They had spirituals (and) hymns that were uplifting to keep their spirits up going through that time.

“I wanted them to (appreciate) that they are able to go to a public school, buy new clothes and go to any store that they would like.”

Bertha Davis is president of the HABD Citizens Participation Advisory Board. She said Friday’s program is the resumption of activity that had taken place about 10 years ago.

“I always wanted something for our kids to do that was positive,” she said. “I want them learning about their culture. I thought African dance and drums would be so helpful for them to learn. Not only are they learning drums and dance, they are also going to be having classes to learn about our history.

“Hopefully,” Davis said, “it’ll get bigger.”

Watch Sounds of Authority rehearsing for the big night from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

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